As Matt Hancock told us this week, thanks to the wonders of science, 1.3 million people in the UK have now been vaccinated. Science is a field of endeavour previously closed to Britain by the EU, as he has pointed out many times.
This is almost the same number of people who currently have the virus, which means we’ve vaccinated everyone. We’ve done it. And in record time.
But wait, not the same people, you say. Possibly, but it’s an unhelpful distinction only really of interest to public health experts, journalists and other known troublemakers.
Part of the problem is the vocal minority of Hancock deniers, sceptics who simply refuse to believe that the health secretary exists despite all the evidence to the contrary: his grave, cheerful, chiding and lachrymose performances for the cameras; his uplifting and occasionally factual tweets and the wildly successful test and trace system he has presided over – a system that is by all accounts the envy of the world.
Without Mr Hancock and Baroness Harding we would have been unable to notch up yet another first for Britain. Where else have they had not one, not two, but three national lockdowns? It’s statistics like these that show just how seriously we’re taking this pandemic and the sheer scale of our response.
Disappearing without trace
Yet despite his pivotal role in the impressively pivoting government strategy, Mr Hancock appears to be fading and flickering like a hologram with an unreliable power source. Test and trace is, after all, yesterday’s news. We’ve moved on.
If the test and trace programme was, as Dido Harding memorably put it, as big as Asda’s entire retail operation, then vaccination will be even bigger: the size of a lorry park in Kent or the whole of South America.
So, after a long stint at the wicket made possible by a series of opposition wides and no balls, Matt has been instructed to retire to the pavilion to oil the bats, sort the pads and liberally sanitise the captain’s box.
For at 59 minutes past the eleventh hour, the time has come for captain Johnson himself to step up to the crease. It’s not batting as we know it, rather a series of tactics to unnerve the bowlers and delight spectators – the deranged appearance, the wild strokes and frequent disputes with the umpire. “When the facts change, the rules have to change,” he yells, insisting that the latest run out was actually a clean drive over the boundary.
While the crowd roars its approval, poor Matt is left to pop his head out every so often to cheer on the team or declare the latest score – or the number of runs he expects to see before tea, whichever is the greater.
Following the science
So how is vaccination going? It’s “fantastic” declares Matt on Twitter, during a well-earned break from making the cucumber sandwiches.
Fantastic indeed as the country passes the major milestone of 2% of the population covered – or rather partially covered. Controversially, it has been decided to delay the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, so that other people can have a turn before it all runs out or gets stockpiled in Felixstowe.
Opinion was divided on whether or not the scheme was wise, but after a few days of being locked in a cupboard with a tube of Pringles and a small cup of water, the chief medical officers of the four nations agreed with the government’s considered view that while efficacy matters, headline numbers matter more.
Don’t worry, we won’t have to make do for much longer with shoddy US or continental European products. Decent, hard-working British brands from the Cotswolds are now available.
Yes, it’s here. A man named Brian, selected for his unmistakable Britishness, became the first person to receive a dose of the Oxford vaccine. “I’m really proud that it was the one invented in Oxford,” he was told to say.
It’s right to be concerned about your elderly relatives, but if they can’t get the jab immediately remind them that hanging on for the Oxford vaccine is the patriotic choice.
Fools rush in
In less advanced parts of the world, Israel expects to complete its vaccination programme within two-and-a-half months. Of course, Israel is a small country with a population of fewer than 10 million. In Britain, though the task is bigger, we could still be out of the woods as early as next Christmas – and remember the impressive size of our programme and the ambitious pace of the rollout. We should all be very proud.
One of the reasons we’re not rushing into things is that, unlike the Israelis, who are prone to showing off, we put a premium on safety. Not just the safety of patients, important though that may be in certain situations, but the safety of politicians, civil servants and managers in our precious national bodies.
This is why it’s vitally important that before we let an army of volunteer vaccinators loose on patients, we make sure that they have all the necessary qualifications and training in, among others, safe lifting and carrying, health and safety, and dispute resolution.
Overly bureaucratic? Think again.
Consider the consequences of picking up a 5g syringe without bending the knees or, worse still, by the sharp end. Further imagine what might happen if an unattended toaster in the next room were to go up in flames while an untrained vaccinator was busy arguing with a practice nurse.
As Captain Johnson is fond of saying, the end is in sight. Optimists will hope that this is true; pessimists will fear that he is right.
(c) 2021 Julian Patterson